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Gone are the days when Lisbon could call itself the capital of a global empire, but it can now begin to claim the title as one of Europe’s best cities to visit. A travel plan that involves the Iberian Peninsula isn’t complete without a couple of days in the Portuguese capital. Lisbon’s population is youthful and vibrant, welcoming travelers with open arms (and knowledge of the English language). Alongside that reinvigoration, there are constant reminders of the city’s long and tumultuous past, like the ruins of Carmo Convent, which harken back to the 1755 earthquake that killed nearly 100,000 people. Today, trams trundle up cobblestone streets between derelict buildings, rattling pink plaster off the walls. This collision of old and new lends the city a charm that is at once familiar and utterly unique.
Lisbon is laid out over seven hills that overlook the mouth of the Tagus River. At Castelo de São Jorge, visitors witness a vast panorama of water and land that stretches toward the Atlantic, shrouded by sea air. This vista inspired generations of Portuguese explorers and merchants to build a global empire—an empire whose footprint is still visible in Lisbon’s boulevards and alleyways. Brazilian meat skewers fill the stomachs of immigrants from Mozambique, and traditional Angolan art is sold to enthusiastic Goan connoisseurs.